Worm Hill vs Penshaw Hill - the rival claims to The Lambton Worm legend

As everyone knows, the Lambton Worm definitely existed.

Friday, 27th November 2020, 7:04 pm

There’s no shortage of scientific, historical and empirical data to back this up.

Only conspiracy theorists, Santa-deniers and all-round rotters would claim anything to the contrary. The only issue is the exact location of the creature’s operations. The indisputable facts, which you’re probably familiar with, are as follows.

The Lambton Worm

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Penshaw Hill or Worm Hill? Where did the Lambton Worm hang out?

We can’t know for sure exactly when every relevant event took place, but can narrow it down to what professional historians refer to as “the olden days”. The hero of the tale, John Lambton, reputedly fought in a Crusade, so we’re going back a bit.

Anyway, as a young scallywag, John skipped church one Sunday to go fishing in the River Wear, but all he caught was a small worm. He would have looked a bit of a chump taking it home for his mother to plate up with chips, so he disposed of the little fellow down a well

“Worm” in this instance is an archaic name for a legless dragon, derived from the Old English "wyrm”. The etymology was confirmed when the creature grew into a gigantic serpent, dining on sheep or the occasional human when he got the munchies.

Nobody managed to slay the beast until Lambton returned from Jerusalem. As he was to blame for the creature being there in the first place, he felt obliged to sort it out and went shopping for some special armour with large razor blades stuck to it.

Worm Hill in Fatfield is smaller and less famous than nearby Penshaw Hill, but no less beautiful.

He allowed the Worm to envelop itself around him, thereby slicing itself up like a Morrisons cucumber before his pieces were lobbed into the Wear. Hurrah.

Prior to that, the animal wrapped itself around a hill. But which one?

Worm Hill or Penshaw Hill?

According to the famous song The Lambton Worm, composed by Sunderland-born songwriter Jack Leumane in 1867: “Away he went an’ lapped his tail; Ten times round Pensher Hill.”

This terrifyingly authentic depiction of the Lambton Worm tale from 1978 shows brave 17 year-old Jackie Wood helping with the recreation.

Some versions say seven times; either way the Lambton Worm was clearly a big lad. But was it really Penshaw Hill? Songwriters don’t necessarily tell a literal truth. John Lennon for example never truly believed he was a walrus.

On the north bank of the River Wear, about a mile from Penshaw Hill as the crow flies, lies the 52-feet high Worm Hill in Fatfield; more modest but pointedly named.

Historian William Hutchinson wrote in 1785: “Fatfield Staithes ... Near this place is an eminence called the Worm Hill, which tradition says was once possessed by an enormous serpent, that wound its horrid body round the base; that it destroyed much provision, and used to infest the Lambton estate, till some hero in that family engaged it, cased in armour set with razors, and when it would have crushed the combatant by enfolding him, sustaining a thousand wounds, fell at last by his falchion (a type of sword).”

As this is the earliest known written account of the legend, it would appear to be one-nil to Fatfield. Furthermore, an oral tradition had it that the beast would lazily wrap itself around Worm Hill for a post-prandial kip after a large helping of sheep and children.

So it’s Worm Hill versus Penshaw Hill for the bragging rights. They’ll just have to argue about it for a few hundred years more.

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